NOF AYALON, central Israel — Despite frantic prayers and more than two weeks of desperate searching, the saga of the three kidnapped boys ended Tuesday with the mourner’s kaddish, the traditional prayer for the dead, with three families clasped in prayer and an entire country standing behind them.
“Dear soldiers, intelligence personnel and police, we still thank you very, very much,” Rachelle Fraenkel told more than 10,000 people who gathered next to her hometown of Nof Ayalon for the funeral of her 16-year-old son Naftali. “You promised you would find and bring them back. And you brought them back. That is a great kindness, too.”
People from across the country poured into the towns of Talmon, Nof Ayalon, and Elad. Standing in direct sunlight for hours, mourners’ sweat mixed with tears as politicians, rabbis, and family members memorialized the three boys.
Fraenkel’s friends said that for the past two weeks they had clung to a thread of hope that they would see him again. “We always thought, in two or three days they’ll come back and we’ll see them,” Tzur Trachtengot, who attended school with Naftali Fraenkel since elementary school, said. “For two weeks, it’s in your head that they’ll come back.”
“You have to use that hope to push yourself forward,” added another school friend, Ori Dubinov.
“He was relaxed, always smiling, athletic, he really loved challenging himself,” remembered Trachtengot.
On Monday night, after the news broke that the boys’ bodies were discovered near Halhul, Trachtengot said the entire community of Nof Ayalon, with a population of about 2,600, came out of their homes. “The entire town, we sat together. There was this feeling of being united, everyone supporting each other. This is a big town and not everyone knew him, but still, everyone came.”
At the entrance to Nof Ayalon, a poster still hung in the roundabout bearing a prayer for the safe return of the three boys. Many youths at the funeral wore shirts, still creased from the printing press, emblazoned with the names of the three boys and the sentence “Nof Ayalon is waiting for you at home.”
Ellen Shapiro and Chani Rosenzveig, both new immigrants from the United States now living in Beit Shemesh, came to Nof Ayalon for the funeral even though they did not know Naftali personally. “We came because we’re mothers,” said Shapiro. “We’ve been involved for the whole 18 days — activities at the synagogue, prayer sessions every morning, listening to the news all the time… I feel like a part of me was lost,” said Rosenzveig.
Shapiro and Rosenzveig both faulted the international community for its lack of response to the kidnappings. “Obama is ridiculous. He has no sympathy. And he has two daughters!”said Shapiro.
“The Jewish community has been united around the world; just outside of the Jewish community there was nothing,” said Rosenzveig.
Despite a fleet of hundreds of buses deployed to ferry mourners from the three funerals to the Modiin cemetery, where the three boys were later buried side by side, massive traffic jams snarled the roads around the cemetery. Aerial images showed buses standing bumper-to-bumper on the way to the cemetery.
The image of three empty graves next to each other showed the inescapable reality of what the country had prayed would not come to pass.
“From the very first day, we said to ourselves that even if it ends badly, God gave us an abundance of blessings, wonderful young men, children with noble souls, a large and empowering community,” said Rachelle Fraenkel as she eulogized her son.
“Rest in peace, my son. We will learn to sing without you, but we’ll always hear your voice inside of us.”